I got into teaching because I wanted to help people and the perfect age for that is when people start university. Students are often young adults about to embark on their new studies that will set them on a path to their future careers. In my opinion, they need all the help they can get.
No matter which kind of university class you teach, you will hope for engaged students. Groups of young men and women who are not just sitting and listening but who you are mentally working with. Some coaches refer to this as your ‘thought partner’. The optimum environment for me is when we are all on the same level and the students then push the lesson forward and I can take a step back. This is hard to achieve with every student and with some classes it just may never happen but when it does, it makes you realise that this is what teaching is about and it inspires you to reach that level every single day with each and every student.
If you take a look at the infographic below, it clearly shows the varying levels of student engagement. We can all probably name at least two students who fit each category and you could probably say which of those categories are prominent in your current and previous teaching contexts.
In my experience, I don’t think it is possible to make every single class a highly engaged one. In fact, some can start off being pretty hard to manage, so getting them to the well-managed status would be a huge achievement worth a big slap on the back. An example of this would be if they have come from a previous learning environment where rebellion and/or retreatism were the norm. There is nothing wrong with a well-managed class and it is actually something to be proud of.
If you get a class who are manageable from day one, you have much more chance of pushing them and going beyond just ‘teaching’. Getting them to study, face problems and overcome them is a major step. This also reflects maturity. At this level, it is no longer about just doing the set exercises in the class handouts but going beyond into new areas that interest the students. Yes, they will face setbacks, make mistakes and enter the ‘there is no right answer’ territory but that is exciting and what they should be doing. After all, our educational system is based on questions and the search for multiple answers, not just right and wrong ones. That doesn’t engage me and certainly doesn’t engage the majority of students I know.